I’ve been working with my Listening Therapist for a few weeks. It’s been a growing experience. While the initial dramatic gains were a great motivator, it takes diligent work to carry out the therapy protocols.
I’m finding it’s required me to make it a priority in planning my day. Even if I do the hour or half hour of listening late in the day, it’s still a priority. I’ve experimented with the time of day to see if that makes a difference.
I’ve generally chosen to do my listening in the evening since that’s the time of day that I’ve generally felt most calm. It’s the time of day that the challenges of the day, if I’m in a recovery phase, have the least bearing on me.
More than a walk in the park
Once I experienced the initial gains additional listening protocols have been set up to reinforce the gains I have made. As my ears and various parts of my brain are adjusting to the changes created by the Listening Therapy, the rest of my body has not been taking a holiday. The listening therapy has affected my body in a numerous ways, just as my original injury affected me in numerous ways.
It’s as if my body is going through a major reset after five years of adjusting to living with an ABI (acquired brain injury). The reset can be compared to a doctor having to reset a bone that has not healed properly. The process involves what looks like a setback in the healing process. Fortunately, as I outline below, the adjustments are much shorter and much less intense than the five years of recovery.
I have recognized seven areas where I have experienced a reset which has been followed by remarkable improvement.
7. Muscle Weakness
Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed that my level of strength has dropped off. I wasn’t aware of the change initially since I’m used to having bad days mixed in with good days. But the loss of strength has been quite consistent for a few weeks. I notice I’m not able to lift or pull with the same intensity that I am accustomed to.
At times the loss of strength would result in dropping something I thought I could lift. At least I didn’t break any family heirlooms. Other times I would need to use both hands when I otherwise could do the task single handed. And then there are some tasks I have put off because of the physical effort required. Even initially these issues weren’t worrisome as I’m used to experiencing unexpected physical changes.
One explanation I was given made sense to me. With my brain receiving signals through my ears of a more social nature, I wasn’t slipping into ‘fight or flight’ mode as frequently. The ‘fight or flight’ mode would be triggered by the autonomic system when the brain receives sounds in the frequency range that signals an alertness to danger.
The Listening Therapy is calming the autonomic system resulting in fewer transitions in and out of ‘fight or flight’ mode. This means my muscles aren’t in constant tension ready to react to alerts from the brain.
I was a few days into the listening activities before I took note of my headache. My headaches have varied over the past 5 years. Initially I was in constant headache mode. Only the intensity would vary. Since using over the counter medication didn’t alleviate the discomfort I decided it was best to leave it. Over time the headache became intermittent. At that point in my recovery I used it as a gauge to monitor my activity level.
After starting the Listening Therapy it did take me a while before I realized I was experiencing headaches on a rather consistent level. While they were low grade, the discomfort would become more noticeable when I got tired or wasn’t distracted by some activity.
Now, after about a month I feel like I’ve turned a corner on that front.
5. Vision Issues
Since starting my Listening Therapy activities I have been experiencing issues with my eye sight. I started to re-experience ghosting.
Ghosting is a condition in which images seem to have a shadow. When looking at black lettering I will see a grey shadow as part of the lettering. This is most noticeable with road signs because I know I’m looking at plain block letters. Other signage might have a shadow to create a three dimension effect. So I can’t detect ghosting as easily when looking at store front signs or lettering on vehicles.
When I’m experiencing ghosting lights can appear very different. Rather than seeing a pin point of light I will see an elongated light, sometime stretching horizontally while other times stretching vertically. When I have a severe situation of ghosting the light will stretch vertically and horizontally creating a Christmas tree shape.
I have been aware of an increased frequency of experiencing ringing in my ears, also called tinnitus. Apparently this is not uncommon when working through the listening therapy. I had gone from dealing with tinnitus 24/7 for the first couple years following my injury, then intermittently and finally it seemed to be almost completely cleared.
The recurrence of tinnitus is expected to be temporary side effect of the listening activities.
3. Neural Fatigue
One of the benefits the Listening Therapy was expected to deliver is dealing with less fatigue. Since the ‘fight or flight’ triggers were being reduced there would be less cause for fatigue. (Let me just point out that physical tiredness following a strenuous physical workout is quite different. Physical tiredness is invigorating because it sends a good feeling through the body as well as building momentum for inducing sleep.)
Off and on since starting the Listening Therapy activities I’m finding myself dealing with fatigue more frequently. That is not surprising because the therapy is changing the way the brain is receiving sensory input. The changes are demanding on the brain.
When starting the Listening Therapy I was advised to reduce my other daily activities. Since I was in the middle of setting up the garden I have continued to do what needed to be done. Call me non-compliant on that level. The advice was for my benefit and comfort.
Very recently I feel I’ve turned a corner in this area as well. While having said that I don’t know whether I will hit another patch where my level of fatigue will increase for a period.
2. Emotional Sensitivity
I am experiencing a higher level of emotional vulnerability. Hearing of hurtful experiences has once again made me more easily prone to tears. As the Listening Therapy opens up different areas of my brain, sensitivities from the past will influence my daily functioning.
This increased emotional sensitivity comes during a week when “Black Lives Matter” is receiving significant media coverage. I’m confronted with the hurt that surrounds this matter whether it’s video clips, news articles, radio talk shows or documentaries. It’s the personal accounts and the long term affects that hits me hardest. While I want to be better informed I know I need to ration my time and counter balance my day with other topics.
1. Heat Exhaustion
The first summer after my TBI it became apparent that I could not handle the heat the way I have other summers. I needed an air conditioner just to exist or at least if I expected to be somewhat comfortable. I am curious how the Listening Therapy will affect my tolerance for hot weather. I’ve seen some indicators that there is potential improvement. I’ll have to wait till the weather starts to heat up in July to find out more.
While the listening activities are enjoyable, the Listening Therapy is not a walk in the park. I find the music enjoyable with a wide selection of classical composers. I particularly find the Gregorian Chants enjoyable. They give me a sense of grounding with the resonating overtones. They remind me of my tendency in the past five years to slip into humming when my body was moving into sensory overload. The vibrations set up by humming I found out recently works because it calms the vagal nerve.
I do prescribed physical exercises for fifteen minutes, as part of the Listening Therapy, during most of the daily one hour listening sessions. Outside of the fifteen minute activity the Listening Therapy seems for the most part to be a passive activity. Meanwhile my body is working hard as it absorbs the sounds and makes healing changes in my vestibular and cochlear areas of the middle ear. As the ear is being conditioned to find a proper balance between air conduction and bone conduction my body is adjusting to the changes as the improved quality of the sensory input reaches my brain.
The Listening Therapy is a personalized series of applications using the Tomatis Method. This method provides a natural approach to neurosensory stimulation. The method was developed by Alfred Tomatis to improve people’s motor, emotional and cognitive skills. In my case the emotional and cognitive challenges have been the most persistent following my TBI (traumatic brain injury).
The Tomatis Method is intended to improve the listening potential of the brain. The effectiveness of the method is based on the understanding that 80% of the brain’s stimulation is connected to the ear. The Tomatis Method has been refined and improved on since the 1950’s.
The Tomatis Method recommends a rest period of a few weeks after completing 18 hours of Listening Therapy. This for me speaks to the profound changes the body; the brain, the ears and the rest of the autonomic system is adapting to. The rest period is an opportunity for the natural healing to take place following the momentum created by the Listening Therapy.
How I Got to This Point
Within a couple months of my TBI, my daughter directed me to two formative books by Norman Doidge. The books deal with the idea that following a brain injury one can experience dramatic healing. He demonstrates the amazing potential for the brain to heal. He uses the term ‘neuroplasticity’ to label the process the brain goes through. The first one I read was “The Brain that Changes Itself”. The second book is “The Brain’s Way of Healing”.
While I believed that Norman Doidge’s idea that the brain can be healed I did not know where or how to begin. That started to change for me about a year ago. A friend directed me to an article of a 51 year old male who had sustained a TBI through a MVA (motor vehicle accident). His challenges very much overlapped the challenges I have been dealing with. I started to inquire about a therapist who could set me on the path of healing.
Eventually I found a Listening Therapist, also known as a Listening Consultant who was prepared to work with me. The Listening Therapy is based on the Tomatis Method, designed to assist children with learning issues. It was also designed to assist children on the autism spectrum. Using the Tomatis Method to provide support for people with a TBI is a more recent application of the method. The Tomatis Method coincides with the idea of neuroplasticity developed by Norman Doidge. I had found the catalyst, the intervention I needed to affect the changes that could make neuroplasticity a reality for me.
In various ways my Listening Therapist and I are working together to design and refine the protocols based on the feedback I provide. I’m finding myself on a journey that I had never imagined. I must admit, it is one exciting journey.
The journey is reflective of gardening in the sense that it all starts with a ‘seed’ of an idea. Given the right conditions, and finding the right environment seeds will burst with growth. Given the proper care and making the appropriate adjustments plants will grow and in due time bear fruit. I find it an interesting coincidence that I’m working through the therapy as the same time that I am developing a half acre vegetable garden, a garden interspersed with some flowers giving the practicality of growing vegetables colour and character.